Booked: Think and Grow Rich

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Groundbreaking news everyone! I’ve decided to start reviewing books related to personal finance and living a fulfilling life without the fruitless endeavours of ultra-consumerism!

I am doing this to try and motivate myself to read more. During my long road of actuarial exams, I read many textbooks, actuarial journals, studies and the like. However, I’ve never been overly excited about reading. Having completed my actuarial exams, I find myself amassing more time on my hands (per exam, people tend to spend about 75 hours of studying per hour of exam, write 2 exams per year that are an average length of maybe 4.5 hours. So I’ve gained about 675 hours per year back into my life. Part of this time is happily being plugged into this new blog 🙂 ).

I recently finished reading a book titled “Think and Grow Rich“, originally written in 1937 by Napoleon Hill commissioned by the great Andrew Carnegie. From what I initially gathered, it was one of the most well respected pieces on improving your wealth and fairly well received in the FIRE community. Although I admit that as I began perusing, I realized it was more a generalized self-help book than providing any specificities on accumulating or maintaining wealth. Nonetheless, I trucked on as I’m always interested in self-improvement!

Naturally I wondered, who is Napoleon Hill and why is he a credible source for self-improvement advice? I began researching Hill on trusty Wikipedia. Here are some highlights I thought were interesting:

  1. He lived a long time for someone born in 1883, finally passing on in 1970 at age 87. Ok that’s pretty badass! Consider the average male born around 1880 only lived about 40 – 45 years*, a number Hill more than doubled!
  2. He is best known for, you guessed it, his book “Think and Grow Rich“. Good thing I picked this one up.
  3. He had several failed businesses including
    • A lumber company (Accused of being liable to bankruptcy proceedings and charges of mail fraud);
    • A college teaching how to build, chauffeur and sell cars (The college was accused of being a scam relying on misleading marketing);
    • Co-founded a candy business (Not sure what happened to this one);
    • Served as Dean at a Institute of Advertising in Chicago (Apparently the State of Illinois issued two warrants for Hill’s arrest on charges of fraud);
  4. He would go on to publish 3 books: The Law of Success (1928), Think and Grow Rich (1937), and Outwitting the Devil (1938). With his gross success in 1937, he apparently upped his living style, subjecting himself to lifestyle inflation.

Ok, so I have to admit I wasn’t entirely impressed with Hill…he seemed to be overly self-confident, some counts of fraud in there for own personal gain…and not really a Frugal Northerner. Although I had my reservations, I decided to read it anyways due to the success it has had and that it is still relevant today nearly a century later.

Think and Grow Rich” is about, more than anything, becoming success-conscious; it is particularly a useful read for those who struggle visualizing success and may be failure-conscious. Hill documented the success of over 500 individuals who were defined as successful in our society such as Henry Ford, J.P. Morgan, John D. Rockefeller, Alexander Graham Bell, Thomas Edison, Theodore Roosevelt, Wilbur Wright, and W. Howard Taft. Personally, I found the book a bit underwhelming and found myself struggling to get through it. Perhaps it was the writing style, the content, or both. While I realize the importance of what is discussed, I felt I was aware of the concepts already. The book is structured in “steps to riches” including:

  1. Power of Thought (Hold onto your dreams and continue to think it is possible regardless of circumstances)
  2. Having Desire & Faith
  3. Autosuggestion (i.e. continually reiterating your desires so that they are engraved subconsciously)
  4. Having specialized knowledge (This can result in others paying a premium for your advice / services)
  5. Imagination, Organized Planning, Making Decisions rather than procrastinating, having persistence, having the Power to move plans into action, etc.

Overall, I felt this book lacked anything concrete. In general, Hill talks about being confident and having palpable goals, visualization, and execution. I think I’ve read that many times over elsewhere. That being said, He DID write this 81 years ago, so in fairness, anything I’ve read recently likely stems from “Think and Grow Rich” and others from this time. I would have enjoyed reading more solid examples from those he interviewed, but he only vaguely made tangents – I think this would have been more fascinating.

I will say that his ethereal writing style and concepts make you think about the broader context of life as a whole. Applying the power of the mind goes well beyond accumulating wealth and plays a material role in what your impact can be in this life. For me, I think I’ve read quite a bit of similar material which perhaps made the read less enjoyable for me. I’m sure many people will disagree!

Have a great weekend everybody!

*If you head to the Decennial Life Tables link, you can scroll down and see 2 publications from 1886 that studied periods 1878-82 and 1879-80. Under Male, look at e0. This is actuarial notation for life expectancy starting from age 0, i.e. birth.

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